Check out these six word pairs commonly confused and misused by freelance writers. Even the most experienced writers and journalists make mistakes on occasion. People frequently confuse affect and effect; lay, lie, lain, laid; capitol, capital; and principal, principle. But we wanted to go beyond the usual and share some equally important, yet often overlooked word abuse.
Blond and blonde – These French words correspond to the male and female forms of the adjective used to describe hair color. Blond refers to males or a mixed gender group. Blonde describes the hair color of females.
The British typically stick to the tradition, of course, and use the word “blonde” when describing a female and the word “blond” when describing a male or mixed gender group.
But we American freelance writers tend to rebel a bit against the status quo. While many purists do use the terms in the traditional way, others say that here in the good ol’ USA, the term “blond” refers to hair color and the term “blonde” refers to a person.
- She has long blond hair.
- The blonde in the corner is named Baby.
Loathe and loath – So many freelance writers, and even journalists, regularly mix up these two words. Loathe means “to hate” and writers should use it as a verb; whereas, loath describes a person’s unwillingness to do something. Writers should use it as an adjective.
- Newman loathes broccoli, often calling it a vile weed.
- Journalists are loath to discuss details about their sources.
Blatant and flagrant – It’s no wonder that freelancers confuse these two words, since their meanings overlap. Blatant refers to something noxious, offensive, unpleasantly loud, or noisy, especially in an obvious or conspicuous way. Writers should use the term, flagrant, to point out or emphasize the serious wrongdoing inherent in the offensive thing or behavior. A flagrant offense is so bad it cannot escape public notice.
Depending on context, some situations could allow for using either word. For example, one could consider violation of animal cruelty statutes as blatant or flagrant, depending on details. If the offenders violated the statutes without regard to witnesses or scrutiny, use the word blatant. If the acts of animal cruelty were committed with exceptional brutality or viciousness, use the word flagrant to describe them.
- The freelance journalist caught that woman telling a blatant lie on her website.
- The agent considered his act a flagrant violation of the protective order.
Discreet and discrete – Both of these adjectives sound exactly the same, causing many freelance writers to confuse and misuse them. One who shows prudence or self-restraint in behavior or speech is thought of as discreet; whereas, discrete refers to a wholly separate thing.
- Nothing if not discreet, Pete Cashmore tried (to no avail) to initiate a private messaging session with Samantha.
- Amy Tippins’ upcoming book will contain four discrete and inspiring sections.
Compliment and complement – Complement refers to either of two parts that make up a whole, two related angles with a sum equaling to 90o, complex proteins found in the blood plasma that work with the body’s immune system. Compliment refers to an expression of praise, congratulations, or admiration.
- “It [the tree] had kept its boughs unshattered, and its full complement of leaves (Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of Seven Gables).”
- He gave her such a sincere compliment that she became weak in the knees.
Less and fewer – I confess that this one is commonly found in other “writing tips” articles, but it drives me nuts, so I had to include it. Less refers to something that consists of a smaller number, something in not as great amount or quantity as something else, or someone or something with lower importance. Less can work in a sentence as an adjective, pronoun, noun, or preposition.
Likewise, the term, fewer, also refers to something that amounts to or consists of a smaller number, but with subtle differences. The word, fewer, works as both an adjective and a pronoun.
Use “less” when referring to things you can’t count or that do not have a plural like money, rain, music, happiness. Use fewer when referring to things or people in their plural forms, such as diamonds, cats, vacations, or kisses.
- She gave Robb two fewer kisses than she gave Jon, leaving him desperate for more.
- He bought seven diamonds, but Tim purchased fewer.
- She poured herself less wine than she wanted.
- I have less money than I had yesterday.
Bonus Tip: Reticent – this word refers to a person’s inclination to keep his feelings or private matters to himself – a reluctance to speak. Freelance writers and journalists alike often use this term incorrectly by styling it in a sentence to infer reluctance or unwillingness in general (outside of a reluctance to speak with the tongue or pen). Please enjoy the two following examples of correct usage:
- She quickly became known as reticent and quiet due to her unwillingness to write about her private life.
- He became abruptly reticent when asked about the scent of her perfume on his cloak.
Word pair confusion and misuse abounds in both print and digital media. It’s a wild fantasy to think a few tips and suggestions will help stem the problem in any material way, but we’ve got to try.
Readers – do you have any sparkly word pairs or bonus words to add in the comment area? Please share.
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